The smile on Mike Tomlin's face as he addressed the media for the first time for training camp 2023 here at Saint Vincent College said it all.
Not only is the Steelers head coach happy to be back at training camp, he also very much likes where his team is following their reporting day on Wednesday.
Tomlin said not only did all 90 players on the team's roster pass the team's conditioning test, they did so in fine fashion. In fact, the Steelers are in such good shape that not one single player is expected to open camp on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
"I'm really excited about getting this team development process started with this group. We checked them in today and had a mandatory NFL seminar and then we did the conditioning test," Tomlin said. "I'm excited to see these guys. I like the feeling in the air. Everyone showed up adequately conditioned and then some. It appears we have a very good group from a health standpoint. There were some people that were somewhat limited in the spring for a variety of reasons. We don't see anyone at this juncture that will be limited as we embark on this thing tomorrow, which is a good thing."
That means Tomlin and his coaching staff can hit the ground running with this group as they ramp up the preparations for the 2023 season.
After two years of not being able to go away for training camp because of COVID, the Steelers are embarking on their second camp back at Saint Vincent College, their home for training camp since the late 1960s.
And the benefits of going away to camp extend beyond the football field.
The team has an opportunity to bond and get to know each other collectively. That process stretches beyond the players, extending to the coaching staff, as well.
"I think that's one of the tangible benefits of a destination training camp, and we just -- obviously we let it happen organically, but we also tee it up," Tomlin admitted. "There's awesome development, collective development in an environment like this where we get an opportunity to be away from our lives and be singularly focused on this collective and spend formal time and informal time together. I just think that's a component of team building that we've all been on enough teams, we know and respect and feel, and really want to pour into.
"So yes, there will be competition, video games, board games, dominos, et cetera. I think that's one of the things if you love football and you love football environments, that's one of the things that you like about destination camps."
Whether that helps in the long term remains to be seen, but it can't hurt.
The Steelers enter 2023 riding a streak of non-losing seasons that stretches back to 2003, the second-longest such streak in NFL history.
They had to win 7 of their final 9 games in 2022 to get to a 9-8 finish a year ago, showing marked improvement offensively and defensively in the second half of the season to do so.
Many players have expressed the hope they can carry that momentum into 2023, but Tomlin was a bit more pragmatic about such an approach.
"I think it's prudent to proceed and to assume that it does not," Tomlin said of a carry over of momentum. "If it does in a positive way, great, but I don't think any of us are sitting here relying on that discussion."
With that in mind, the coaching staff won't assume they're starting from a level higher than expected. They'll continue the team-building process from the foundation up.
And it's that process that continues to drive Tomlin, even as he enters his 17th training camp as the head coach of the Steelers.
"It probably intensifies, to be quite honest with you, but that's me and my personal relationship with this game and the group of men that I get an opportunity to lead," Tomlin said of his own excitement level. "I enjoy what I do. I enjoy the people I get an opportunity to do it with.
"I'm always generally excited. I'm excited about the challenges that environments like this present and the way it's going to challenge us and the way we get an opportunity to grow as professionals, as men, myself included."
In other news, Tomlin was asked about his offseason comment that he expects second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett to "kill it," in 2023.
What would that look like?
"We'll see. He needs to be what we need him to be," Tomlin said. "I know that he's preparing with that mindset, and I like his approach and his demeanor in that regard, but I think whether you're talking about guys like quarterbacks or guys like me as a head coach, we need to be what our team needs us to be."
Tomlin also was asked about his level of concern with a potential number of new veteran starters on defense this season as the Steelers signed cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan, and linebackers Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb, among others, to possibly play large roles.
"I'll be very blunt. We're not concerned about the new faces on defense," Tomlin said. "They're veteran guys. They're smart guys. It's going to be a non-issue for us by the time we're stepping on the stage."